The heroin crisis in Baltimore has generated political support for safe consumption spaces, facilities where drug users can safely take heroin under the supervision of medical professionals.
“What that means is, a facility that is supervised by medically trained personnel would be set up for people that use drugs to come in and use their drugs there, under supervision,” said Harriet Smith of Baltimore Harm Reduction in Annapolis on Feb. 13 in support of a bill in favor of safe consumption sites.
The bill (H.B. 519) is proposed by District 11 Delegate Dan Morhaim of Baltimore County and would allow community organizations, hospitals, and health centers to open safe consumption spaces throughout the state. Two other related bills proposed by Morhaim require hospitals to have an addiction counselor on the premises 24-7 and adjustments to drug possession charges that would prevent users with small amounts from going to jail until their third charge. While it’s unclear if Democrats in Annapolis will support it, the opioid crisis continues to claim lives across the country and the idea for safe consumption has growing support among people who understand the roots of the problem.
“It’s been imperative for years that we treat people with compassion. Now is the time to do it,” said Reginy V of the BRIDGES Coalition (Baltimore Resources for Indoor Drug-use Grassroots Education & Safety). “This is a space where you can access safer consumption, needs, and services. Completely community run, it does not need to be run by the city or the state. I’m definitely with staff who are peers.”
Baltimore resident Ricky Morris, who was advocating in Annapolis as well, understands the opioid problem first hand.
“I OD’d myself years ago, and just think, if no one was there to help me, and I lost my life, I wouldn’t be here today for my children,” Morris said. “I wouldn’t have had a chance to do better, turn my life around, so give people the opportunity to evolve and do it.”
Safe consumption sites are an idea that have taken hold elsewhere. Seattle and San Francisco are on track to be among the first in the nation to take this bold step and open its first safe injection sites this July, and cities such as Colorado and Philadelphia intend to follow.
Last year, The Real News spoke to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health professor, Susan Sherman, who co-authored a study that calculated that a single safe consumption space could save the city 7.8 million dollars a year, by cutting down on emergency room visits, transmission of diseases like AIDS, and enhanced treatment opportunities.
“If that doesn’t appeal to you, keeping people alive, and you know, it’s cost effective. It actually saves a lot of money in terms of ambulance coming for overdoses, in terms of people being in the hospital, so that’s also an external benefit,” Sherman said.
Similar to the bail bond industry wining and dining legislators to beat back bail reform, looming over the effort to stem overdose deaths, is the power of big pharmaceutical companies. That said, advocates are hopeful that the urgency of the crisis will lead to real solutions.
“Give people the opportunity to evolve and do it, and learn from their mistakes, and just have them in a safe environment where their life can be saved,” Morris said.
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